Without it, communities stagnate. As necessary as it is, though, growth is often perceived as a sinister force bent on changing an area’s character.
As we suggested in Sunday’s editorial, we enter the new year at a crossroads. For much of the 2010s, the community was trying to recover from losses. We needed growth just to get our workforce back to pre-recession numbers.
Over the last five years, the Grand Valley has tried several innovative things to diversify the economy and improve the quality of life to attract private investment, new business and educated workers.
That strategy is working. Throughout 2019, economic indicators trended up. Unemployment reached an all-time low this year and the number of workers continued to swell. In the third quarter of 2019, personal income was up 7.65% and personal income per capita increased by 6.38%. Mesa County grew faster than the state in that regard, though median income still lags behind the state average.
But the payoff leads to a trade-off. Grand Junction is poised to become another major player in Colorado. The diversity of jobs, the bright economy and the access to recreation are drawing people’s attention. The more people who move here, the more cars on the road. More residents means more competition for a limited inventory of desirable housing and more pressure on local government to deliver services.
Thankfully, a comprehensive planning process is underway (guided by some “visioning” workshops in which preserving local character emerged as a top consideration) that will hopefully address things like appropriate densities for new residential development. Here’s an opportunity to streamline the kind of growth the community desires — whether it’s infill and mixed-use developments — and discourage what it doesn’t.
But it’s time for municipalities in the valley to apply rules consistently with an eye on long-term growth and stop making every planning decision a case-by-case compromise. We’ve seen what happens when the NIMBY element storms the podium as councils consider a developer’s proposal. We end up with half of a good — or bad — idea.
At least there’s an apparatus for considering what’s desirable or undesirable about certain types of growth. But this community needs to focus not only on the physical aspects of growth — how to pay for transportation fixes, for example — but on the “care and feeding” of its citizens. What kind of community does it want to be? Presumably, more prosperous, more diverse and better educated.
We need to devise a road map for that, too. Community goal-setting should include getting the rate of students pursuing a post-secondary education of any kind to at least match the national average. District 51 does a fine job of graduating students from high school, but if they don’t go on to college or learn a trade, they’re stuck here trying to earn a living on meager wages.
Another community goal should be getting household income up to the state average. These two goals are inextricably linked and impact the community in two ways:
First, higher educational attainment and higher income solve many of the “downstream” problems poverty creates.
Second, in a tight labor market, higher-paying jobs that can’t be filled by locals attract qualified workers from outside the area. The population grows, creating as many problems as it solves.
But improving the quality of the local workforce attracts companies that want to tap the existing pool of workers. Improving the quality of the workforce starts with high-performing public schools and creating a culture of educational achievement. “Growth” in this context is about growing opportunities for locals and growing their earning potential so they don’t get crowded out by those attracted to the Grand Valley’s growing array of amenities. It’s not about simply more growth just for growth’s sake.
Growth is coming, one way or another. And someone has to pay for it. At some point, we think Grand Junction is going to have to consider authorizing recreational pot sales and applying the proceeds to tackle underfunded liabilities.
Mesa County and other local government entities are already facing an array of potential fees and tax questions to cover things like new schools, stormwater drainage, transportation infrastructure improvements and a jail expansion. Citizens will continue to seek a way to fund a community recreation center.
In our view, it makes little sense not to at least ask Grand Junction residents if they want to lower their tax burden or leverage marijuana tax revenues for grant-eligible projects.
The future looks bright on the sunset slope. What we do with our first-ever recovery not owed to extraction will chart our new course long into the future.